Convicted killer Kevin Nunn has had his appeal to release forensic evidence dismissed, unanimously, by the Supreme Court.
Five of the country’s most senior judges ruled today on Nunn’s family’s bid to force Suffolk Police to hand over what they considered could be key evidence in proving him innocent of murdering his ex-girlfriend, Dawn Walker, in 2005.
Lawyers for the family argued that forensic evidence should be retrieved from storage and allowed to be retested with modern methods.
But Suffolk Police argued there was no new evidence and their lawyers urged the law lords to support earlier court decisions by refusing to order the handover of evidence.
Giving the court’s decision, Lord Hughes said the ‘duty of disclosure’ that exists during a police investigation and trial, requiring the prosecution to hand over evidence that might undermine a prosecution, is more limited after a defendant has been convicted and has had his criminal appeal rejected.
He said: “The position of a convicted defendant is different in kind from that of a defendant on trial. The latter is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty, as he may never be. The former has been proved guilty. He is presumed guilty, not innocent, unless and until it be demonstrated, not necessarily that he is innocent, but that his conviction is unsafe.
“The defendant on trial must have the right to defend himself in any proper way he wishes, and to make full answer to the charge. The convicted defendant has had this opportunity. The public interest until conviction is in the trial process being as full and fair as it properly can be made to be.
“After conviction, there is of course an important public interest in exposing any flaw in the conviction which renders it unsafe and in quashing any unsafe conviction, but there is also a powerful public interest in finality of proceedings. All concerned, including witnesses, complainants, the relatives of the deceased and others, have a legitimate interest in knowing that the legal process is at an end, unless there be demonstrated to be good reason for re-opening it.”
He added that there was also a ‘clear public interest’ that, in the contest for the finite resources of the police, current investigations should be prioritised over the re-investigation of concluded cases, unless good reason is established.
Explaining the scope of the narrower duty on the prosecution after conviction and appeal, he added: “There can be no doubt that if the police or prosecution come into possession, after the appellate process is exhausted, of something new which might afford arguable grounds for contending that the conviction was unsafe, it is their duty to disclose it to the convicted defendant.”
Examples, he said, could include a new confession by someone else, or the discovery of a pattern of evidence, which throws doubt on the original conviction.
He added: “This is, however, plainly different from an obligation, not to reveal something new, but to afford renewed access to something disclosed at time of trial, or to undertake further enquiries at the request of the convicted defendant.”
Nunn, of Woolpit, was jailed for life in 2006 and ordered to spend a minimum of 22 years behind bars.
It was alleged he killed Miss Walker after a row and then burned her body, which was found near the River Lark in Fornham All Saints, not far from her home.
Sheena Walker, Dawn’s sister, said she was ‘absolutely thrilled’ by today’s decision, though she felt her family would never ‘have closure’ over her sister’s death.
“Without knowing how she died and how she suffered we can’t ever come to peace with it. We still don’t have the answers and without the answers we don’t have closure,” she said.
She added: “Clearly the decision wasn’t made by one judge, it was made unanimously by five which cements the fact that he’s guilty, in my opinion.”
She has urged anyone with doubts over Nunn’s conviction to read the court’s full judgement and learn about the facts of the case rather than listen to hearsay.
To do so, go to www.supremecourt.co.uk and search for Nunn v Chief Constable of Suffolk.
The Nunn family are currently unavailable for comment.